In reporting criticism of Uzbekistan by Rice, State Dept. official, Wash. Post , AP ignored Bush administration's contradictory history there

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

In reporting recent remarks by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried criticizing Uzbekistan for human rights abuses and signaling that the United States would now seek different Central Asian allies in the war on terror, The Washington Post and the Associated Press allowed flagrant contradictions in Bush administration statements and actions regarding Uzbekistan to go unmentioned.

The Post and AP reports linked the recent State Department criticism of Uzbekistan to the Uzbek government's bloody suppression of an uprising in the town of Andijan in May. But the Post and AP did not tell readers that the State Department's assessment of human rights violations in Uzbekistan is not new; the department determined in 2001 that Uzbek authorities tortured prisoners. Nor did the Post and AP inform readers that, notwithstanding the State Department's 2001 findings or reports that the CIA was aware of specific acts of torture, the Bush administration has reportedly rendered dozens of U.S.-held detainees to Uzbekistan for detention and interrogation, even as President Bush was denying that his administration renders detainees to countries that engage in torture.

As Media Matters for America has noted, both the Post and The New York Times have previously documented growing evidence that the Bush administration has rendered detainees to Uzbekistan for interrogations, even though the State Department has condemned the treatment of prisoners there. As the Times report noted, the State Department issued a report in 2001 documenting the abuses: "The [Uzbek] police repeatedly tortured prisoners, State Department officials wrote, noting that the most common techniques were 'beating, often with blunt weapons, and asphyxiation with a gas mask.' "

Moreover, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray stated on the March 7 edition of ABC's World News Tonight that the CIA knew the Uzbeks were torturing prisoners, including one case in which he received photos of a prisoner who was boiled alive. When his deputy confronted the CIA station chief about the practices, he was told, "Yes, it [information] probably was obtained under torture." And yet, at a March 16 press conference, when asked about the practice of rendering prisoners to Uzbekistan, Bush stated: "We seek assurances that nobody will be tortured when we render a person back to their home country."

From the October 10 AP report by Anne Gearan:

The U.S. has military and security interests in Central Asia "because of the war on terror and our desire to see that Islamist extremism, if I can use that term, does not succeed or spread," Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said.

The United States also has economic interests in energy and beyond, and a political agenda of democratic reform, Fried said.

"My chief point is that these interests are indivisible. We cannot and will not have a one-dimensional relationship with any of these countries based, for example, purely on security interests," Fried said. "It doesn't work."

He cited the disintegration of military-based U.S.-Uzbek ties after the government of President Islam Karimov put down an uprising in Andijan in May.

The government says 169 people died. Residents say there were at least 200-300 victims and two opposition representatives claim the death toll passed 700. The government denies firing on unarmed demonstrators, but an Associated Press reporter saw troops shoot into a crowd.

The Bush administration, which thanked Karimov for his cooperation after Sept. 11, 2001, with a White House visit the following year, called for an international investigation of the disturbances. Karimov then said U.S. troops had to leave an air base used to support combat operations in Afghanistan.

From the October 11 Washington Post article by staff writer Robin Wright:

Signaling a deepening split with one of the United States' closest allies in the war on terrorism, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rebuked Uzbekistan on Monday for spurning appeals from abroad on human rights and called the Tashkent government "out of step" with political trends in the rest of Central Asia.

The United States can find alternatives to Uzbekistan to fight the war on terrorism, Rice told reporters as she flew to the region for a tour that is pointedly avoiding the country. Uzbekistan has provided a base at Karshi-Khanabad, known as K-2, for military and humanitarian operations in neighboring Afghanistan since shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Bush administration is seeking to retain overflight rights for warplanes and shipments of relief goods, U.S. officials say. But Washington has now virtually given up on any further cooperation from President Islam Karimov, who in July ordered U.S. forces to leave K-2 within six months. He also quietly ended cooperation on counterterrorism programs, U.S. officials have said, effectively walking away from a broad agreement for cooperation on terrorism issues signed when Karimov visited President Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Uzbekistan is out of step with what is happening in this region as a whole," Rice told reporters on the first leg of her flight to Central Asia. "The ability of Uzbekistan to progress economically and politically is going to depend on the freedom and creativity of its people, and that's not happening."

"As to the issues we have had with Uzbekistan on military access to K-2, we have been very clear: We will continue to fight the war on terrorism. We will continue to do it effectively. We have many ways to do it," Rice said. It was the toughest and bluntest language from a top Bush administration official since relations began to deteriorate after Uzbek security forces staged a bloody crackdown against an uprising in the city of Andijan in May.

Karimov rejected U.S. and European calls for an independent inquiry, and Rice expressed concern that the long-standing Uzbek leader is no longer listening to the outside world.

On Rice's first swing through Central Asia as secretary of state, the Bush administration is pointing to Kazakhstan as the new regional model. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has ruled Kazakhstan -- which at roughly the area of Western Europe is the world's ninth-largest country -- since before the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, but Rice called him a reformer.

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